The name McKinley has a special place in my heart as well as the hearts of most Alaskans and Americans. One of my beautiful granddaughters is named for Mount McKinley, the highest peak on the North American continent - which was named after the late President. The land surrounding Mount McKinley is called Denali National Park, Denali being the Alaska Native name for the mountain.
William McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio, where his parents owned an iron foundry. He was the seventh of nine children and attended school in Niles, a rural town of about 300 people. When he was nine years old, the family moved to Poland, Ohio (near Youngstown), to find better schools. There McKinley attended a private school. His father remained in Niles to run the iron foundry and spent much of his time away from his family.
McKinley joined the Methodist Episcopal Church at age 10. When he was 17 he entered Allegheny College but dropped out due to illness. McKinley was the first man in the town of Poland to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. He joined the 23rd Ohio Infantry commanded by the future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. He brought food to his regiment while it was under intense enemy attack during the Battle of Antietan in 1862 and earned a promotion to second lieutenant by his actions. By the end of the war he had the rank of brevet (honorary) major. He was later known in political circles as Major McKinley. After the war he studied law and worked for a county judge for about eighteen months. He entered law school in Albany, New York, in 1866 and started practicing law in Canton, Ohio, in 1867.
McKinley married Ida Saxton on January 25, 1871, and they were blessed with two daughters. The younger daughter died in 1873 at four months of age. That same year Mrs. McKinley's mother died. Two years later the other daughter died. Ida became an invalid because of the shock and grief and later developed epilepsy.
McKinley was a gifted public speaker and naturally popular. His political career began in 1869 when he was elected as the county prosecuting attorney. In 1876 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served seven terms in the office. In 1890 he lost his bid for an eighth term, but he was elected as governor of Ohio in 1891. He ran for United States President in 1892 but lost to Benjamin Harrison. He ran for President again in 1896, campaigning on the need to maintain the gold standard (a system in which the dollar was defined as worth a certain amount of gold). He defeated William Jennings Bryan to become the 25th United States President.
In 1895 Cubans rebelled against Spain, which had ruled Cuba for nearly 400 years. After he took office in 1897, McKinley pressed Spain to negotiate with the rebels. Even though he wanted to remain neutral, McKinley let it be known that the United States would go to war to protect US interests. After the USS Maine exploded in the Havana harbor in Cuba on February 23, 1898 (history suggests that explosion was caused by an accident), public opinion pressured McKinley to take action. On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain. The Spanish-American War lasted only 113 days, and a treaty was signed on December 10. Spain surrendered Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and sold the Philippines for $20 million.
Also in 1898, the United States took possession of the Republic of Hawaii and signed a treaty with Germany and Britain to gain what is now part of American Samoa. In 1899 McKinley used military force to put down a rebellion and to fight the Boxer rebellion in China. His strong stance as Commander-in-Chief impressed the American citizens.
McKinley ran for a second term as President with Theodore Roosevelt as Vice President. They campaigned on prosperity at home and prestige abroad and won a sweeping victory. In March 1901, the United States enacted the Platt Agreement, which later became part of Cuba's constitution. With this agreement the United States had the right to intervene in Cuba's affairs if there were problems there. In May the Insular Cases were decided by the US Supreme Court. This decision said that the United States could control territories without giving their people US citizenship. In July a civilian government was installed in the Philippines.
On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot at a reception by Leon F. Czolgosz who hid his revolver under a handkerchief. As the President approached to shake his hand, Czolgosz fired two bullets at him. One richoted off McKinley's button, but the other went into the President's stomach. He was rushed to surgery but lived for only eight days before dying from gangrene and infection. He died the morning of September 14, 1901, just over six months into his second term as President. Mrs. McKinley died in 1907 and is buried beside her husband in Canton at the McKinley National Memorial. Facts for this post came from an article by Lewis L. Gould, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, pgs 338-342.
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